A Truly Sustainable Alternative to Dairy Based Ice Cream

This is a story that will likely make you hungry, inspired, and hopefully thinking a little broader than you started. This is a story of passion and mystery, with a twist at the end. This is about an ice cream that uses no dairy, yet tastes as good as, if not better than its milk based counterparts. And you won’t want to choose it because you can’t have dairy, you’ll just like it because it’s good. Or so that’s what the folks behind Coconut Bliss are aiming for. Now I know, you’re saying, coconut based, that sounds (insert gushing or repulsed adjectives here)

Hang on.

Coconut Bliss makes all the standard flavors you’d expect and far beyond, from Vanilla Island to Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge, with some Strawberry Lemon Love thrown in for good measure. The flavor, when it hits your tongue, is distinctly focused on the flavor at hand. Coconut sits very much in the background, nearly undetected. It’s more the messenger rather than the flag bearer. They use very clean ingredients, all organic, and skip insulin spiking sugar for its more even keeled cousin, agave nectar.

Larry from Coconut Bliss tries his hand at harvesting

In conversation with Larry Kaplowitz from Coconut Bliss however, coconut was front and center. It was simply what they chose to use to make ice cream for themselves, while living and working at the Lost Valley Educational Center. But why coconut? For them, it was a matter of both taste and ethics. Sure, there are plenty of soy and rice based options out there, but they didn’t meet the same taste standard for them as dairy based. Coconut milk, found at many local stores, seemed to meet that, giving great taste and feel without sacrifice.

Then something happened.

In the mold of Clif Bar, Ben & Jerry’s and other foodpreneurs, their friends went crazy for it, encouraging them to make more and sell it at stores. But where to find enough coconut milk? Ah, therein lies the mystery. Apparently it is a tightly guarded secret. Their favorite, from lots of taste testing, was that from Thailand. Three brands, all with the same taste. Same supplier? Nobody was saying. So they just bought can after small can of coconut milk, at one point using 2500 a day. And a really sturdy can opener. No joke!

Then one day, there was a peek behind the curtain. An employee saw, on a Alibaba a global supplier marketplace, the possible name behind the goods. After a lot of courting and an eventual visit in Thailand, Coconut Bliss had their direct source. No, they aren’t telling who it is either.

So they were in business, starting in Eugene, Oregon which according to Kaplowitz is a very fertile ground for new natural foods companies to start. Why? They have 7 independent natural foods stores, as compared to 3 in Portland, 2 in Seattle. And there’s the Williamette Sustainable Valley Foods Alliance, which is a powerful collective supporter and resource for fostering and growing such businesses.

Great. But my question to them was, what about the eco impact of shipping coconut milk from 9000 miles away versus using local dairy?

Larry was well prepared for this, telling me things about cows beyond what I knew about (large land use needs, methane emissions, etc) For example, cows drink an average 50 gallons a day. And he also opened my mind to the concept of biologically appropriate vs. a strictly local focus.

An example would be English beef. It’s a place where they have relatively limited land available, and must import the grain used to feed them. This, versus somewhere like New Zealand, which by it’s coastal focused population density and abundance of grass and grains naturally has all that’s needed to raise cows with ease, with much less resource intensity. Which is better, in this case? Local should of course be the first consideration in food choices, but then there’s considering the surrounding factors that contribute to it’s impact (or lack of it) as well.

The same idea goes with the coconuts. They have 650 acres of land, of which they do zero to raise them. As in no watering is done outside what rain, and they let the native plant life flourish around it, and allow termite mounds to ground on the trees, which it turns out is helpful, as the termites consume the fallen plant remains on the floor below.

When it’s time to harvest, they simply drive through the acres, pressing down the plants between the trees so workers can go in and harvest them. Here again is an example of raising things where they grow well, versus forcing them into being, with a lot of external inputs, as in English beef.

And they’re organic. By accident. Kaplowitz told me that one year the growers didn’t have enough money for fertilizer. So they went without, and got 50% less yield. But they found out they could charge twice the price. Seeing an opportunity for what it was, they elected to continue on that path, since improving the yield while reducing labor cost and environmental impact.

Returning to Eugene, Oregon, there’s a curious fact: Coconut Bliss is now produced in the processing plant of Lochmead Farms, a major regional dairy producer. Purists of both food and ethical basis might balk, but step back and look at the bigger picture: Lochmead is a local business, owned and run by the same family since the 1950s. They own their their cows, grow their own feed, and the farm and processing plant are only 5 miles apart. They sell their product through 42 local stores, all within 40 miles of their operations. They employ about 400 people and seek long term positive relations with them, whereas other area dairies use mostly benefitless temp workers.

No they aren’t organic, but by many other counts, they are an asset to the local economy and the environment.

So, the next time you’ve got that craving for ice cream, consider taking Coconut Bliss for a test drive.

Readers: What’s your take on local vs biologically appropriate farming? What other “under the radar” organic foods should we know about? Have you had Coconut Bliss? What’s your take?

More reading about food:

Investment Funding For Organic Foods Leads Discussion at Investor’s Circle Conference : Ecopreneurist

Detroit Entrepreneur Has Plans For City’s Food Desert
: Ecopreneurist

Good News for Nutraceuticals : Ecopreneurist

About the Author

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media. Who he has and wants to work with includes consumer, media, clean tech, NGOs, social ventures, and museums. For more on GreenSmith Consulting, see www.greensmithconsulting.com He also writes for Triple Pundit www.triplepundit.com
  • Su

    I follow this logic. As a wine snob, I am told that those on the West Coast should drink West Coast wines, but those on the East Coast should drink European wines because it takes more fuel to transport wines across the country than it does to ship them from Europe. (This is not to presume that California and Southern Europe are the only ‘biologically appropriate’ terroirs…just the best.)

    Similarly, based on the carbon food-print of dairy, it is probably saner to put Thai coconut milk on a boat than to ask local communities to bear the environmental consequences of large-scale livestock operations. I’m sure there are sustainable ways to raise dairy cattle that also take a cow’s health and welfare into account, but the current demand for dairy products is far too great for those methods to be feasible.

    Of all the reasons to go vegan, concern for the environment is certainly near the top, and localvorism isn’t the absolute, infallible solution people believe it to be!

  • Thanks Su, well put! I liked that their aim wasn’t necessarily anti dairy or a “because I can’t eat xyz” They just wanted a good tasting, healthy product, with a minimal environmental impact, that many people would enjoy. And I think they achieved it.

  • Andrea

    In addition to eco-footprint issues, we should also be considering animal cruelty when we make our food choices and dairy definitely ranks up there as one of the most cruel industries. Cows are constantly made pregnant, with the male calves sold to the veal industry, which often keeps the calves in crates so small they can’t turn around. Cows are given large amounts of antibiotics and hormones to make them produce more. Because the cows produce so much milk, more than they naturally would, they often develop infections in there utters, and studies have found small quantities of pus in milk. When the cows can’t produce any more milk, they are sent to slaughterhouses. Recent investigations have documented the extremely cruel treatment of cows by workers in American slaughter plants. Workers were shown to be water-boarding cows and beating them. All cows are sent to slaughterhouses, even ones raised organically because US law requires cows to be killed at US Department of Agriculture regulated plants. So if you want to avoid needless animal cruelty, choose plant-based “dairy” products like coconut, soy, rice, hemp and the like.

  • Amen sister, preach on!

  • Debbie

    Andrea said a mouth full!!!
    That is exactly why people should choose plant based
    food. What better reason then to help prevent the cruelty to these poor cows who are nothing more then milking machines and victims to the hands of mankind. If it’s healthier for us, and them, why not?

  • Su

    I find that those who put planet care at the top of their agenda respond less to animal cruelty as a reason to go veg. Yet animal welfare can also be looked at as a environmental sustainability issue too. Non-human animals are a critical part of the ecosystem, so anything that harms animals harms the planet. Overbreeding animals is cruelty, and clearly takes a toll on the environment as well. And so on.

  • Liz

    I’m an omnivore, a lover of ice cream (from hormone- and antibiotic-free cows), and would love to try Coconut Bliss. However I live on the East Coast. I’m guessing they don’t ship over here due to the carbon toll, but maybe they’ll hook up with an East Coast processing plant someday?

    Another seriously delicious dairy alternative is almond milk. Someone should make THAT into an ice cream!

  • Liz, they’re quite amenable, you may want to write them about an East Coast operation. You never know, I passed on a request from a Canadian and they said they’d had a lot of requests recently, and were looking in to that. Tell them I sent you!

  • Mmmmm…. thanks for sharing the story behind my new favorite ice cream. I’ve been seeing it around more lately, which is great because I love the stuff. Now the only problem is that it’s too addicting! Mmm… coconut bliss is indeed bliss. 🙂

  • It’s fine addiction to have. I had Vanilla Island plus some lemon raw cookies for desert (or is it dessert?) the other night. Diggity dang that was good.

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  • Alexis

    How is shipping canned Coconut Milk from Thailand sustainable?
    That is a lot of pollution to get the base ingredient of your product from point A. to point B!